The transition to graduate school is an exciting time in the life of a first-year graduate student, but it can also be a terrifying experience. As a first-year graduate student, I will admit that the first couple of weeks of my graduate career were extremely overwhelming. I found myself in an unfamiliar city surrounded by students who seemed to be more comfortable in this environment than I would ever be. Many students already held advanced degrees, while I was making the transition straight from undergraduate. Doubts arose and I asked myself the most daunting question that a graduate student can pose: “Do I really belong here?” Amidst the panic and feelings of discouragement, I hadn’t noticed that I had fallen victim to a prevalent phenomenon known as the “Impostor Syndrome.”
The Impostor Syndrome is characterized by feelings of inferiority that may be coupled with the idea that you are a “fake” or that everything you have accomplished thus far can be attributed to luck or any external factors not related to your own abilities. These feelings can be quite debilitating and may interfere with your school work. However, as graduate students we need to keep one important idea in mind: These feelings are absolutely unfounded.
So how can we overcome these feelings? Well, one of the answers is in the question. It is important to realize that you are not alone. Other students have undoubtedly been through a similar experience. Graduate students belong to a unique community, and it’s important to reach out to the other members of the community. So talk with your fellow peers about their experiences as graduate students. You may find that they share or have shared the same concerns as you, and they can help you find ways to resolve them.
It is also important to realize that none of us are perfect. Most of us will encounter a moment in which we may start to question our competence. At this point, it’s important to take a step back and recognize how far you have come. This will give you a different perspective and will help you to realize how much you already know. Keep in mind your moments of success and the steps you took to achieve this success. At the same time, it is beneficial to identify potential areas of improvement. Categorizing your weaknesses is a key step in working past these barriers in order to grow as a person and as a student.
Finally, take care to remember that you do belong. You were accepted because your professors were impressed by you and believed that you would succeed in your program. We are all talented and bright intellectuals that have the potential to make an impact in our respective fields. When you are struggling with negative feelings, do not quit. Be persistent in your efforts to overcome these feelings. Have confidence in yourself and believe that you can accomplish great things – a positive attitude will yield a world of possibilities.